In California, an unfit parent is a parent who, through their conduct, fails to provide proper guidance, care, or support to their children. This can include not only a parent’s actions but also a home environment where abuse, neglect, or substance abuse is present. In most cases, an unfit parent has a Child Welfare Services safety plan in place in their home or has an open investigation into their home and parenting.

Only in rare cases do California judges cut parents off from their children. Doing so requires significant evidence, more than mere claims and accusations from the other parent. In a child custody case, a parent alleging unfitness must provide actual proof and show the following kinds of circumstances:

  • Abuse
  • Neglect
  • Domestic violence
  • Mental illness
  • Substance abuse
  • Incarceration

At any time during a child custody proceeding, a parent or the court may request a child custody evaluation be performed to determine parental fitness. A child custody evaluation is conducted to decide whether granting one or both parents custody is in the best interests of the children or places the children at risk in any way.

Factors Included in a Child Custody Evaluation

The court uses a child custody evaluator to examine the parties, their homes, and their relationship with their children. This child custody evaluation reviews several factors, including the following when making their child custody determination:

  • Whether one parent been the primary caretaker in the children’s lives
  • Which parent can best understand and attend to the children’s needs
  • The children’s feelings towards each parent and a desire to be with one parent over another
  • If a parent sets age-appropriate limits and a responsible parenting style
  • How the parent handles conflict with the other parent and their dispute resolution skills
  • If there is any evidence of abuse of the children in question or any other children
  • Whether there is domestic violence in the household or might be domestic violence in the household
  • If the parent currently has a substance abuse problem or has had a problem in the past
  • Whether the parent is mentally ill and the mental illness is a threat to the children

Additionally, the child custody evaluator may interview a children’s teachers, therapists, or other adults involved in the children’s life. Regardless of which factors the child custody evaluator uses in their evaluation, the evaluator’s final decision rests on what is in the best interests of the children.

Factors Excluded in a Child Custody Evaluation

A child custody evaluator may not give preference to either parental gender, nor may he or she consider the following when determining parental fitness:

  • Race
  • Sexual orientation
  • Religion
  • Financial status

If a parent is found unfit by the child custody evaluator, the evaluator will suggest an appropriate visitation schedule for that parent. Visitation may be supervised, limited, or denied depending on a parent’s circumstances.

When neither parent is found to be a threat to the child and joint custody is a possibility, the parents can work with the child custody evaluator to limit parental conflict and establish an acceptable parenting plan.

An Experienced Attorney Can Help You

Along with a child custody evaluator, having an experienced family law attorney by your side can also help you focus on what matters most in your case. At Fernandez & Karney, we believe you deserve to be an active participant in your children’s lives and will help you try and gain whatever type of role you envision that to be.

Call Fernandez & Karney today to find out more about how we can help you with your child custody arrangements during a confidential consultation. At Fernandez & Karney we are committed to fighting for the best interests of both you and your children.